The Braves have the window open here at baseball's annual swap shop. Sitting in the middle of the window display is a starting pitcher and, surprisingly, a reliever.
Atlanta didn't expect last year's closer, Rafael Soriano, to accept its arbitration offer. They signed Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito last week to replace Soriano and Mike Gonzalez. But Soriano accepted anyway, guaranteeing himself a raise from the $6.1 million he made last year.
Soriano will not play for the Braves, however. Frank Wren, Atlanta's general manager, said Tuesday the Braves would trade Soriano this offseason. And despite the belief that Soriano accepting arbitration was not good news for the Braves, it simply gives the team more trade options.
"We could have chosen not to offer (arbitration) and got nothing for him (Soriano)," Wren said. "We chose not to take that path, with the chance that we could get something. So whatever we get in the end is going to be better than a kick in the chins, which is what we would've gotten if we haven't had offered."
The Braves are also going to trade a starter, most likely Derek Lowe. Now, they may not get a lot back for Lowe, since he's got three years and a total of $45 million left on his contract. But Lowe does have value, and teams are going to get desperate enough for pitching and come after the veteran starter.
They may not get their big bat through a trade of Lowe. Instead, the Braves may simply get prospects. But that would clear salary space that would give the Braves a chance to bring in a hitter.
And so now, they could do the same with Soriano. This gives the Braves tremendous flexibility to improve not only the major league roster, but also perhaps the organizational strength in the farm system. They can accumulate additional players that may help out in Atlanta, or be used one day in another deal down the road.
Everyone knows the Braves need to get some bats for the offense. The talk here in Indianapolis is one of those bats might indeed be Henry County's Jason Heyward, recently rated the top prospect in the game by Baseball America.
Heyward is still only 20 years old, but he's an outstanding talent. His time in the Arizona Fall League was limited due to a leg injury. The Braves hoped a good performance would convince them he could be ready to go at the start of the season. But it seems Heyward's time off did not dampen the feelings about the young slugger.
"It's not like we think he would have struggled," one Braves' scout told me. "We know what he can do. Jason Heyward is going to be a special player – soon."
So that could leave left field and first base. There are a number of free agents available that fit what the Braves are looking for, mainly a right-handed hitter. Mike Cameron, Jermaine Dye, Xavier Nady, Marlon Byrd, Marcus Thames, Mark DeRosa, and even Gary Sheffield are all available as free agents.
Wren said a trade is possible, but signing a free agent may be a bit easier.
"We've got possibilities in both realms," he explained. "I think it's probably more likely in free agency. As we go through the trade market, it's hard to come by what we call impact bats, guys that can produce runs, hit 20-plus home runs and drive in 90 to 100 (runs). We're looking everywhere we can."
Wren made two great moves in signing Wagner and Saito last week. Yes, they are a bit older. And yes, they both have injury histories. But they are also healthy and have great track records as effective, and dominating relievers.
With six starters for five spots, and now an extra reliever in Soriano, don't worry about the Braves finding a bat. There's still more work to be done these next two days in cold Indianapolis, and even if it takes a few more weeks, Atlanta has an excellent chance to construct a very complete roster for next season.
"I think we're going to be busy," Wren admitted.
Just like any shopper is this time of year.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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